When working in the homes of families as an EI therapist I notice many things about a family. The longer I’ve done this work in the family’s natural environment, I’ve become more accurate in picking up small cues about the family…things like, What they value. What time of day they like best. What they want to learn from me and our session. What their comfort level is with a therapist sitting on their floor and jumping into their daily routines. The list really could go on forever.
And as a self described people watcher, I’ve come to know that 1) These things really matter in helping me to do a good job, and 2) They vary GREATLY from family to family. There are very few consistent trends when it comes to my interactions with families in their space…with a few exceptions. The largest exception I see is a parent’s desire to make sure their child has what “they need.” This desire seems universal to me. I’m often asked to recommend toys, asked if they have the “right things,” and asked to make gift recommendations for upcoming birthdays or holidays. Despite family income, I see a trend in family’s feeling that their child needs STUFF. And I understand it. Because I am a mom. And I also love toys. And because the companies that market to us as parents want us to think that MORE is MORE.
As therapists, we believe the opposite – LESS IS MORE. Here’s why. A child can more easily access and interact with fewer number or toys that are organized with their corresponding parts. Hear me – this does not mean designer toy organization (unless you want it to), but this could mean using bins and boxes or separate areas on shelves (more tips HERE). It just means that toys, which are the TOOLS for learning, have an intended purpose for the age/developmental stage and that we don’t need 50 toys that do the same thing. Note that the recommended toy age is not always developmentally correct. It’s being set by marketers not pediatricians or developmental therapists with different goals in mind. Just because that box says 3-6 months, does not mean the toy is developmentally appropriate for a 3-6 month old baby. (Interested in what real development looks like at each stage and how to pair it with purposeful play and creative materials? Check out 1-2-3 Just Play With Me We have done that work for you.)
When discussing this, we often talk about THE 4 ESSENTIAL B’S OF EARLY CHILDHOOD. And we’ve challenged ourselves with this question:
What developmental milestone could you not achieve between 0-3 years of age with simply BOOKS, a BALL, a BABYDOLL, and BLOCKS?
Literally we’ve sat around the room with other therapists and challenged ourselves with this question (desperately nerdy, I know) and we can’t find one single milestone.
Quick examples (But the options are endless):
BOOKS: Early literacy, labeling of objects, visual focus, turning pages for fine motor activities, turn taking, pointing. (Some of our favorites HERE and HERE and Toddler Reading Tips HERE. (We REALLY love books!)
BALL: Hand eye coordination, grasp/release, turn taking, language, social anticipation and peer play, balance and coordination, joint attention.
BABYDOLL: Imaginative play skills, labeling body parts, fine motor strengthening with dressing, social emotional practice of emotion sharing.
BLOCKS: oral motor exploration, cause and effect (knocking down), stacking, jumping over, counting, role play when using as other objects (cell phone, people), patterning, spatial awareness. More on the importance of blocks HERE.
As a parent, I encourage you to shed the cloak of stress that “my kid needs more.” Our kids need us. Embrace that thought. It’s quite freeing and leads to memory making experiences no toy can replace.
As a therapist, I encourage other therapists to spread this message. I sat with a young first time, young mom yesterday who asked me to go through a laundry basket filled with an array of toys she had been gifted, purchased, or had been handed down. She, like many parents I know, stressed she didn’t have enough or the right things for her child. We went through that bin together and identified what he might learn from those toys at this stage of development and which might encourage him to do the next exciting thing. And she boxed up the things he had outgrown, was too young for, or had too much of. She was so relieved and I was so excited for her and her child.
Spring cleaning leaves room for new growth. That holds true for our little ones too. Shed the rest and see what fun you can experience today with our 4 essential B’s!